Ranking the Disney Canon – 30: The Rescuers Down Under

“Du-duty? Well, I never thought of it… Well, okay, how does… next April sound?” – Bernard

” Heavens, no! We must act immediately, tonight!” – Bianca

“To-tonight? But Bianca, this is so sudden, I mean… don’t you at least need… a gown or something?” – Bernard

“No, just some khaki shorts and some hiking boots!” – Bianca

The Rescuers Down Under is sort of the “Odd Film Out” within the group of films released in the 1990s Renaissance Era. It is not a musical, the only canon film of the 1990s to be so, it takes place in contemporary society and is not based on a fairy tale or other mythological tale, and it was the first sequel to a single story film in the canon. (The Three Caballeros and Fantasia 2000 also fall more into the “spiritual successor” category than the sequel category anyways, though Winnie the Pooh will be considered an official sequel.) The Rescuers Down Under, released in 1990, comes 13 years after the original film, The Rescuers. This wasn’t the first attempt at a Rescuers sequel. Oliver and Company was originally intended to be a spinoff of the original film, and another sequel was planned around 1996 before being scrapped. It is also known as being the first film to use the CAPS animation system, which would give the 1990s its defining animation look.

The Rescuers Down Under, as the name implies, takes our heroes to the Australian Outback, where a young boy named Cody constantly explores the Wilderness, having the unique ability to communicate with animals. On one particular day, Cody befriends a rare, Golden Eagle, but soon afterwards is kidnapped by a local poacher, Percival McLeach, who dreams of using the eagle’s rarity for his own monetary gain. A mouse witnesses the events, and proceeds to alert the Rescue Aid Society in order to achieve their help. The heroes of the first film, Bernard and Bianca, are assigned the mission, interrupting Bernard desire to propose to Mrs. Bianca. Together with Wilbur, their transportation and brother to the original film’s Orville, and Jake, the local RAS agent, the two once again partner up to save a young child.

STRENGTHS

The Rescuers Down Under is able to parlay some of the strengths of the first film into this one. One area where this movement is evident in through our returning characters, Bianca and Bernard. Both characters are in top form in this film, and are just as enjoyable in this film as they were in original. Part of the reason why this works is that Bernard and Bianca work just as well here as they did in the 1970s. They never feel out-of-place or out of time. Bernard, performed by Bob Newhart for the second time, once again stands out, and his nervous bravery is always a fun trait.

The mice, alongside Jake, have some fun adventures in the outback. For as much screen time as it gets, their story, on its own, has some very good moments. Again mentioning Bernard as a highlight, his main arc works well, with his infatuation with the love of his life and his rivalry with Jack work very well for his character, and give him the most to work with among the trio. Outside of Cody, he is the character you care most about, and for good reason. Bernard is a great character, and it is good to have him show it for the second time.

The Cody and McLeach story by itself is pretty well done. McLeach is the glue that keeps this relationship greatly at odds. McLeach is intimidating, outspoken, and convincing, and does a good enough job to succeed as the villain. One of the best things about him is his unapologetic love for this craft, so to speak. It doesn’t make him the deepest character. but this attitude does give him some fun moments. He especially plays well off of his partner in crime and pet, Joanne. All of the scenes in the film with McLeach are ones you want to pay attention to, even his comedy scenes. I also appreciate the fact that he has a beer belly. A great touch there, design team.

The film does a good job at playing up the antagonistic relationship between McLeach and Cody. McLeach’s obsession with the Golden Eagle and Cody’s true care for the creature really create some good conflict and good scenes. While Cody is not as great as Penny was in The Rescuers, he is able to prove himself as a smart character who really cares for what he believes, which helps in getting the audience to care for him as a character.

The film does have some good action, in particular the non climatic types of action. One scene of note is when Cody first meets the Golden Eagle and frees her. This brief section involving Cody gliding on the Eagle is really neat, stunningly animated, and exhilarating, which is great considering that fact that it is not a chase scene or a climatic action piece. Another small moment like this is when Wilbur attempts to land on Jake’s too small runway. These small moments are some of the film’s best, and it is the attention to making every moment great is what makes this film fun.

WEAKNESSES

This film is full of great moments. As mentioned above, both the Cody storyline and the Rescuers storyline are entertaining and have fun character moments. The problem is the very fact that I have to mention these storylines separately. The Rescuers and Cody don’t actually connect until the film’s final minutes, which means that throughout the entire rest of the film, the two storylines are unconnected.

This film has a weird similarity to The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, in that, when the storylines are looked at a separate entities, they are strong, and in this case, extremely strong. When put together, however, there is this feeling of disconnect between them. Unlike in the first film, Bernard and Bianca are not around to see much of what is happening with Cody and McLeach. It feels like there are two separate movies going on here, where the events are loosely connected to each other, which finally end in a crossover. Mind you, these would be two good movies, but they would feel separate nonetheless.

Also, for a film about The Rescuers, there isn’t as much of them as you’d think. In fact, the film spends much more time around Cody and McLeach than around the Rescuers. Cody and McLeach actually steal the show from Bernard and Bianca due to the fact that they have much more show around them. Mix this in with the occasional cut-away to Wilbur’s antics in a hospital, and you’ve got even less time on-screen for our heroes When you go to see a film about The Rescuers, you expect The Rescuers to feature. It’s even more disappointing considering how strong the sections with the Mice are.

Also, not a ton of rescuing by them either. In fact, Cody is smart enough to rescue himself the first time through, even if it does barely fail. Whereas in the first film, the mice are constantly involved in trying to free Penny, here, the journey aspect of the film doesn’t allow them to be there at all. This causes the Rescuers to be entertaining, but not doing much until the film’s third act.

Speaking of not doing much, my final gripe is the disappointing use of Jake. Jake has a pretty good introduction as a smart adventurer stuck manning the RAS Australian runway. It shows his skills as well as his personality very well. However, as soon as he sees Bianca, it all goes down the drain, and he transforms into just a character for Bernard to be jealous of. Jake had great potential to have an arc of his own, and could have become his own character in this film. While he certainly is able to alter Bernard, Bernard never really has an effect on him.

(Actually, two more quick gripes: Though the Australian Outback is awesome to look at, there isn’t enough of the culture in the film to help justify its use as a setting, and the film ends much too abruptly, without so much as a wrap up from any of the characters.)

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

The Rescuers Down Under is one of the few films in Disney history to feature absolutely no songs whatsoever. The score is good, but I wish it used a bit for Australian influence.

The film’s best scene is a combination of Cody’s first meeting with the Golden Eagle, and his first encounter with McLeach. It’s a great start to the film, even if it contributes to the overexposure of Cody and McLeach.

CLOSING COMMENTS

The Rescuers Down Under, even though it truly is the black sheep of the Disney 90s, is full of strong moments. The two distinct storylines each have their wonderful moments in both character and plot. However, these two storylines fail to connect in a way that gives the film one unified form, and there are little issues with Character exposure and characters themselves. The film is way down under from the quality of its predecessor, but it is still strong enough to be placed at spot 30.

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One thought on “Ranking the Disney Canon – 30: The Rescuers Down Under

  1. It’s a shame how much flake this sequel gets compared to most of the films in the Animated Classics series. The animation is beautiful, the characters are memorable (Especially the return of the two main mice) and, while I agree the music should’ve had some connection to Australia’s culture, is still remarkably beautiful especially during the ‘Flight of Marahute’ sequence (Which happens to be my favorite moment). Yet with how different these storylines are and how they barely connect till the third arc gives a sense that the audience could’ve had a different film. IMO, it could’ve just as easily been called ‘Down Under’, starring mainly Cody, McCleach (Even his sidekick), and Marahute. Thereby all that time would focus on the development of those characters, including some that weren’t granted enough exposure to fully explore, and for all intents and purposes could’ve granted a chance for Jake to truly shine in his role because I agree with the fact that he’s this great character who was severely underused.

    I’m not saying it should never have been a ‘Rescuers’ movie in general. I loved the chemistry that Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor shared in their roles since the first film, even though I like this movie a slight more than I did with the first. But if you’re going to do a ‘Rescuers’ movie, I do agree with the fact that there should be more of a strong connection with the mice and the person they actually want to rescue just as the first film did. Then again, especially with Disney, sequels are usually a ‘hit-and-miss’, they may start out good for a while but it only takes a few minutes before something goes wrong. Still, this movie still remains one of my favorite sequels to watch because for all the flaws this movie had it still has it moments that still makes the film watchable.

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